Mama died on July 4, 2011. We almost lost her earlier that year when she went to the hospital with pneumonia. Her doctor told us pneumonia isn’t called the old person’s friend for nothing, but she was treated and released to a nursing home, where she could get rehabilitation.
That didn’t go well. She had spent too many years trying to breathe, and she was tired of it. We brought her home, and almost daily she told Dad, who took such loving care of her, that she couldn’t do it anymore. Even walking across a room was exhausting.
Developing a blood clot in her lungs two months later may have been an answer to her prayers. I was sitting on her hospital bed when her doctor came in, took her hand, and smiled at her. He called her by name and asked, “Are you ready to go to Heaven?” Mom nodded and said, “Yes.”
So, no treatment, and finally she didn’t have to do it anymore.
On a visit home before this last trip to the hospital, I went over to her chair, leaned over, kissed her cheek, and said, “I love you, Mom.” By then she wasn’t using what breath she had to talk in complete sentences much of the time. Mom, a former administrative assistant, had devised a one-word shorthand. She looked up at me and said, “Despite?”
“Oh, Mama,” I said. “Of course despite.”
I know why she asked that. We hadn’t wanted her to give up. I remember when she quit wearing makeup. She was a beautiful woman, and her appearance mattered a great deal to her. It was a sign, the first of many. I remember her handing me her car keys, and I remember saying, “Please don’t quit driving, Mom.” I remember when she decided she couldn’t go to church anymore. Trying to get into the building was too hard. I remember each thing she gave up.
Sometimes we just can’t manage.
And I have thought of her one-word question so often this last year. It has taken on spiritual meaning for me.
“I love you,” I hear the God of the universe say.
“Despite?” I answer.
There are so many “despites.” Despite sin that so easily entangles us? (Like Paul, who said, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” [Romans 7:15].) Despite our apathy and ignorance? Despite our confusion and questions? I’ve thought more than once: I’m a mess, Lord.
Looking through my mom’s Bible this week, my daughter noticed that Mom had highlighted passage after passage that mentioned “peace.” Communion should remind us that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Jackina Stark is a retired English professor and an author living in Branson, Missouri. Read another Communion meditation by her each Friday in September at www.christianstandard.com.